From: Advice from a Master Catechist
Question: What age-appropriate suggestions do you have for sharing the meaning of All Souls’ Day with my first and second graders? —MARY ALICE K.
James Blankenship responds …
All Souls’ Day is intimately linked with the doctrine of sin. It’s a pretty big topic for young children.
Sin is an offense against the love of God through some transgression of his law. We sin either mortally, killing the life of grace in our souls, or venially, in a smaller infraction that does not dispel grace completely. When we sin we damage that relationship with God. Baptism and confession forgive our sins, thank God, but we are still left with the effects of our sin, which is called temporal punishment.
A second-grade catechist in my parish wonderfully illustrates the reality of sin and its effects by using a pumpkin. She sketches the word “sin” on the pumpkin, and then has the children poke pushpins into the words so that “sin” is spelled out in pushpins. Later they remove the pushpins. She then uses an analogy to explain that confession takes out the pushpins (the sins), but little holes are still left behind. By further analogy, the little holes represent the temporal punishment caused by our sin. We can reach heaven only when all the little holes are gone. To help us repair those little holes, the priest gives us a penance. They can be further repaired by prayer, acts of service, and good works.
The conversation then can easily turn to purgatory, the poor souls there, and the importance of keeping All Souls’ Day. Purgatory is where God repairs all the little holes, making the person perfect and ready to enter heaven.
It’s a joy to watch the children’s faces light up when you tell them they can “help” God to repair all the holes by offering up their prayers and good works. When those of us on earth assist the souls in purgatory, they will, in turn, help us when they reach heaven. All Souls’ Day is also known as The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.
A few weeks after the pumpkin demonstration, a parent recounted to me all the things that her second grader was doing to help fill the holes of the souls in purgatory—showing us grown-ups that small children can do great things for the love of God and others.
James Blankenship is the Director of Religious Education at St. Francis De Sales Church in Purcellville, Virginia. He is founder of the St. Isidore Project, dedicated to the poor by growing food and offering education and community.
This article originally appeared in Catechist magazine, Nov/Dec 2016.
Image Credit: Ted Schluenderfritz